Magisterium. Miracles. Ministry. Monologues. Madness. Murder.
Mike Flanagan’s "Midnight Mass."
I’m not the first to say it, but this series is quite possibly the best show of 2021. Since early last year, I had heard about murmurs about this show and how it was a personal passion project for Flanagan. It wasn’t until closer to the show’s release that I ascertained that the horrors of the show stemmed from the writer's, director's and creator’s bouts with religion and alcoholism.
Instead of adapting Stephen King and long-standing horror works like with his previous series, "The Haunting of Hill House" and its successor "The Haunting of Bly Manor," the horror maestro delivers an original, terrifying new series, teeming with aching sincerity that pulls its horror inspirations from the most universally read book in the world.
The Good Book. The Bible.
So, what’s it about? Glad you asked.
Set on the dying, shrinking town of Crockett Island off the coast of Washington, "Midnight Mass" features an ensemble of small-town characters who begin experiencing a renewed religious fervor when a fallen prodigal son from the affectionately dubbed ‘Crock Pot’ island returns and an unknown, enigmatic, young priest arrives simultaneously. With the island’s new arrivals, the church bells start tolling again, but for all the wrong reasons.
Personally speaking, the less you know about "Midnight Mass," the better your viewing experience will be.
Every chapter of the seven-episode series builds upon the last which keeps you locked in and invested in the story. Granted, it is a bit of a slow burn founded less on the jump-scare galore of Flanagan’s "Haunting" works, rather emphasizing more on the meditative character work and a demonstrative exploration of how religion can be exploited and manipulated to its most theologically terrifying capacity.
It’s no secret that The Bible has been used as an excuse for humanity’s most egregious sins from slavery to imperialism to genocide. Thus, framing a horror series around those who misinterpret Scripture depicts the consequences that misled faith has on an entire community. However, the series accomplishes this without ever actually bashing religious institutions despite its nuanced critiques. It never comes off as “anti-religion.” In my opinion, I would call it “anti-lust” as the show doesn’t shy away from showing how far some are willing to go for their lust for God’s eternal, everlasting life.
Mike Flanagan’s singular vision shines throughout the series because "Midnight Mass" might as well be his masterpiece, his magnum opus. It feels honest, human and balanced in its poignant ruminations on trauma, guilt, faith and the big question we all ask our parents when we’re young: “what happens when we die?” It’s scary stuff to think about but Flanagan tackles these topics with grace.
Fear not though, "Haunting" fans because speaking of scary stuff, the horror is there. There’s some truly blood-curdling imagery and frightening scares throughout, but I found the series’ real horror to be more apparent in its shocking, gasp-worthy revelations and terror-inducing atmosphere. The gospel hymns juxtaposed to the visual storylines were enough to give me goosebumps. The soundtrack by frequent Flanagan collaborators, The Newtown Brothers, is just eerily mesmerizing too.
As for the cast, the ensemble is simply spectacular from top to bottom. "Haunting" veterans Kate Seigel (Mike Flanagan’s wife), Henry Thomas (Elliot from E.T.), and Rahul Kohli (my personal favorite character) are all great. Zach Gilford’s Riley Flynn, the returned prodigal son, floored me with his somber, sweet performance. There hasn’t been a character that I’ve hated as much as Dolores Umbridge from "Harry Potter" until I bore witness to Samantha Sloyan’s Beverly Keane, a holier-than-thou woman of faith who hides her contempt behind a disgusting façade of piousness. She’s an awful zealot that you’ll hate from beginning to end.
The entire cast is fantastic and shines bright like the Light of God, all coming from various religious backgrounds, ethnicities, orientations, etc., but no other cast member shines brighter than Hamish Linklater’s Father Paul. The things the story asks from Linklater as an actor is a lot, and he pulls it off perfectly in one of the best performances I have seen in a very long time. His character is an all-timer that exceeds every expectation.
Performances aside, the characters themselves are so intimately written with heartbreaking earnestness, regardless of their actions. The best thing I can say is that they felt real in every way.
I could endlessly write about Midnight Mass in all its glory for days, maybe even weeks, but me just talking about it does nothing to demonstrate its power. In essence, this is the best show of the year. By carefully tiptoeing down the tightrope of criticizing organized religion, Mike Flanagan delivers a mature, meditative, and methodically crafted horror series that will surely leave a long-lasting impression for years to come with a chilling finale for the ages.
“Be not afraid.”